The Story of Elena Chamurlidi supported by CENN and Tsalka LAG
Elena Chamurlidi is the owner of the restaurant “Pontia” in Tsalka, Kvemo Kartli, and the winner of the EU-supported project “EMBRACE Tsalka” grant competition. The restaurant was opened by Elena’s father many years ago. After the death of her father, Elena, a young woman who had always been involved in the family business, took on the responsibility to manage the business. Elena had always had important plans for the restaurant and for several years, had wanted to expand her business and take it to the next level. Last year, Elena presented her idea in an ongoing grant competition under the EU-sponsored project “EMBRACE Tsalka” and received funding for her idea.
With the support of the European Union, Elena was able to improve and modernize the restaurant, which made it much more comfortable and incredibly cozy. The interior of the restaurant is now more minimalistic and is equipped with modern and essential inventory and equipment.
“When people come to visit Tsalka, I want my restaurant to leave them with a good impression. My ideal menu would include more plant-based dishes, as more and more people are becoming vegetarians and vegans for environmental and ethical reasons. I would like to offer them more diverse options.” – states Elena
The restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes, including traditional Greek cuisine and fresh fish. She believes unique local businesses are particularly important for local community development, economic empowerment and for promoting the region.
Elena is of Greek origin. She is fluent in English, Greek, Turkish, Russian and speaks Georgian too. She received her education in economics abroad in Europe, which allows her to run her own business professionally and dynamically. Elena also oversees marketing and organizational leadership for her business.
“Without this grant, my plans and vision for the business wouldn’t have come to fruition. I have been thinking about my dreams for this business for a long time and now I finally have the financial means to accomplish my plans.”
All members of Elena’s family assist her in managing the restaurant. In addition, Elena also employs six locals, most of whom are women. Elena herself is an active citizen and, beyond her own business, seeks to contribute to the protection of women’s rights locally, the economic empowerment of women and the elimination of gender inequality, which is particularly acute in the regions. Based on her own example, Elena believes that rural women have the ability to run a business or lead in their community. In order to increase women’s public involvement and independence, more opportunities need to be created in rural areas.
“Women living in rural areas play an important role in the economic and social development of rural areas. However, limited access to education, social services and employment poses many challenges to them. Empowering women in rural areas is important not only for the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities, but also for economic growth in general,” states Elena.
Elena’s business idea is one of 13 local projects funded by the Tsalka Local Action Group (LAG) with EU support to date. Within the framework of the EU ENPARD project “EMBRACE Tsalka”, the Tsalka LAG, together with the organization CENN, has been working for the second year in Tsalka Municipality on rural development, strengthening the economy, integration of women, girls and vulnerable groups. Supported project activities cover tourism, agriculture, non-agricultural, commercial and educational areas. The projects aim to create new jobs and economic growth.
Tsalka Municipality, in addition to its special natural resources, is also known for its vulnerable groups and ethnic diversity. Over the years, the constraints of tradition and the problem of women’s integration are becoming more and more entrenched, restricting access to significant opportunities for many women or girls. At the beginning of the project “EMBRACE Tsalka”, as one of the important goals of the project is the economic and social empowerment of women, girls and vulnerable groups, a significant challenge for the project team was the current state of women’s integration in Tsalka:
“In the first stage of the project, when we held community mobilization meetings in all of the villages of Tsalka, for a number of cultural or traditional reasons, women almost never attended the meetings. We then thought about how to fulfil the most important component of the project, as meeting and interviewing women was a big challenge. Although the project has really changed this attitude with its goals and activities, today 6 out of 11 members of the Tsalka LAG Board are women and at the same time, the elected chair of the LAG is a woman” – stated Melano Tkabladze, the manager of the project ‘EMBRACE Tsalka’
Two years after the start of the project, the active work of the Tsalka LAG and the numerous educational and economic empowerment opportunities provided within the project, the issue of women’s integration has changed radically in light of Tsalka’s reality. At the Tsalka LAG office, ‘Open Social Evenings cafes’ are held every Friday to empower and integrate local women, where local women have the opportunity to integrate, socialize and meet interesting speakers.
In 2020, 40 social evenings in a hybrid format were held on various topics such as: Entrepreneurship, Gender Equality, Career Development, Educational Opportunities Abroad and more. The success of social evenings can also be measured by the fact that several young girls who participated in the evenings were given employment opportunities, three girls participated in international forums and projects, and the locals became closer and more integrated in the community. While meeting with local women in the first phase of the project was a big challenge, in 2020, a total of 782 locals participated in social evenings, of which 608 were female participants. It is also noteworthy that among the 13 winners of the first grant competition of the project are 5 beneficiary women, whose projects, in addition to creating economic wealth, also include the empowerment of local women.